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Archive for the ‘Alec Baldwin’ Category

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

02 Aug

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Action-Adventure. 131 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: In this 5th of the series, the indestructible Ethan Hunt and his cronies take on a terrorist syndicate who kill world leaders.

~

Tom Cruise always gives good value. Starting out – Taps – he evinced a love of acting, a devotion to it, a reveling in it. Intensity was the result of this passion, and a release of vitality admirable to beholders. He is never lazy.

In the new Mission Impossible, intensity is somewhat taken over by the intensity of the perils which cascade all around him. And Cruise Vitality, like a star superseded by the understudy, has been supplanted by the Vitality Of The Special Effects.

But in the few “acting” scenes he has Cruise hits his targets. Of course, in films of high action, it is a general rule that the acting has to be quieter in order to let the action carry the excitement, fear, and focus. Action films require a great deal of standing still while the next catastrophe is being born and the audience acts it out for themselves.

Here the credibility of the action is also compromised by feats in which he is shown doing what could neither be done nor filmed as it is filmed if it could be done – Cruise hanging on to the outside door of an aircraft taking off, to start with. It may have been filmed in a wind tunnel, but one does not lend it credence in mid air. Once this abuse to our credulity is passed, though, tricks and trials zip before us before we even are us enough to catch them. Clever they are, perhaps, and they continue to the clever end.

All this is made palatable by the supporting cast of Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, and Rebecca Ferguson. They are delightful foils for him and for one another.

As to what they face, it is comparable to a cartoon in which the bulldog is flattened into a pancake by a steamroller. Every one leaps up into survival afterwards. Drownings, bullets, bombs, falls from altitudes – none of this leaves an impression on one because we know they have to survive it until the last reel is reached. Besides, they’re Special Effects: Movie Impossible. In the old Silents, the damsel on the railroad tracks was going to be rescued in the nick. The difference is that then, the oncoming engine was real.

Still we don’t mind. Our pleasure is lowered in each new version of these impossible escapes because each new version is numbed by the previous version. Cruise has physical strength, a certain wit, and good looks enough to outlast anything – just as we all want him to. He’s a good actor, here as elsewhere, and, as elsewhere, he knows the genre in which he works and plays well within its decorums.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, ACTION/ADVENTURE, Alec Baldwin, FOREIGN LANDS, Jeremy Renner, Tom Cruise

 

Still Alice

28 Jan

Still Alice – directed by Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland. MediDrama. 101 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A successful and happy career woman and mother of 50 falls pretty to early onset Alzheimer’s.

~

As I watch I think I shall go to the movies no more. They hold nothing for me but the spectacle of incompetence relieved occasionally by interludes of striking proficiency.

For this movie is so badly written the mind staggers from its dullness. No one talks like that. No one responds that way. The supporting actors are shocking in their misapplication of tears. You want to slap them sensible. Moreover, they have learned their craft by imitating the emotions of soap opera acting, instead of from themselves. Indeed the world in general seems to express itself nowadays in the style of TV emotionalism. Everyone weeps and grows angry in the jalopy of bad acting. The actors here – I shall not disgrace this page by naming them – have not the slightest idea of how to go about these parts. They slot-in their emotions as called for. They order-in their acting from Domino’s Pizza. For here we have another example of a writer directing actors in his own material. It is a disservice to humanity for directors to do this or for writers to insist upon it.

Perhaps they think they have as much to say as storytellers as Woody Allen, not realizing they are devoid of both his sense of humor and sense of humanity. Every actor in this piece, with one exception, is incompetent.

No, that’s not true. The tertiary character acting is excellent. Stephen Kinker, the neurologist, is excellent. And so is … oh, why bother! If Alec Baldwin is not miscast, then he is entirely to blame for his absence of depth and coherence. He is renowned for comic narcissism, so he has the selfish side of the character … but why go on? The husband is not selfish. The husband is connected to his wife and his career with the same sinew. Baldwin is so creaky in his craft, or lacking in actual compassion, that he produces unintended disgust and a nagging, baffled dissatisfaction.

The reason you go to this film is to see Julianne Moore. She is up for an Oscar, and she deserves one, even here, where the order of her big scenes is shot-gunned by the director/writer. She has beautiful legs, a beautiful smile, a sound and appealing femininity. And what we see here is a great actress making-do. I hope she wins for it. Because her not to have won it by now is just rude.

The film is beautifully produced. The New York street scenes convince. So do the Long Island beach scenes. So do the cottage scenes. The piece is perfectly costumed. Lit. Filmed. So you may think you’re not being cheated. Check it out. Forearmed.

 

Blue Jasmine

15 Aug

Blue Jasmine – written and directed by Woody Allen. Satirical Tragedy. A wealthy woman falls on hard times, moves in with her sister, and things get harder still. 98 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The movie is fun to watch because everyone in it is fun to watch, from Glen Caspillo who plays a cabdriver in one scene to Cate Blanchett who is virtually in every scene.

Are Woody Allen movies ever miscast? We have sub-stars, such as Alex Baldwin who spreads his face with the merciless fixed smile of the opportunist and we have Sally Hawkins touching as Blanchett’s ordinary sister whom she moves in with and Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight, ideal as the millionaire in shining armor. But we also have every single minor character perfectly acted and played. As the maraschino cherry on top: Bobby Canavale playing to perfection the baby-bully of Hawkins’ boyfriend.

And we have Allen’s cunning script, which keeps us moving from the beach house on The Vineyard to the walkup on Van Nuys in San Francisco, set decoration by Kis Boxell and Regina Graves, and Production design by the ever faithful Santo Loquasto. Javier Aquirresarobe excellently shot it. What a team!

I don’t know if Cate Blanchett was Allen’s first choice to play this woman, but she is my first choice to play it right now. She is never without resources. She is always in the situation which she is, which she has created, and which she dearly wishes to escape. Vocally she has a rich, melodious alto, which one never tires of hearing. She wears that last desperate little Chanel jacket with a difference positively valiant. She looks smashing in the clothes and in the milieu of the millionaire she has married. She is riveting. She is imaginative, varied, and true.

And you do not give a rap about her or about anyone or anything else in the story, so no one is applauding. You sympathize with her at times, but the character is a character of satire, not of tragedy. She is one of Truman Capote’s swans. She is a woman with no inner resources whatsoever, and so there is no alternative for her. She pygmalioned herself out of a dull upbringing and changed her name of Jeanette into that of A Trophy: Jasmine – a  fragrance without a past, an invisible surface. This means that there is no inner drama, no other possibility, no might-have-been. The drama is between going mad and living out the madness of the life she still wishes for herself.

Jasmine has been compared inaptly to Blanche Dubois, but Blanche Dubois was a schoolteacher, and she had an inner life. Jasmine was never anything except the interior decoration of a tycoon. When that falls apart, she has nothing inside herself to fall back on. She has no money, no calling, no children. What happens to King Lear when his job falls away? He too goes mad. But with a mounting difference. There was that in him – authority – which invites obedience to it. Being every inch a king is different from being every inch a society bitch. And the difference is that Lear learns something from the denuding and self-denuding of his authority; Jasmine learns nought, for there is nothing learnable in her. She is a just a story about a past told by a verbose half-crazed lush who once had one.

 

Malice

09 May

Malice –– directed by Harold Becker. Drama. A young woman sues a successful doctor for a botched operation –– with dire consequences. 106 minutes Color 1993.

★★★★

Misnamed, Malice is a confidence-game story of the sort I love, like The Grifters. And if you like that sort of thing, this is a good one. True, we are not properly prepared for the finale, and the house on the cliff with the seas raging below is a miscalculation, but never mind; our delight in this mischief has been satisfied long before that.

Particularly as Ann Bancroft has a star turn as an old drunkard in a single scene well worth replaying. She is manipulating to get and manipulated by a bottle of single malt scotch, and her character is tougher than all the Bronx.

Each in single scenes, we also have George C. Scott as a Harvard medical dean and Gwyneth Paltrow brilliant as an insolent high school sophomore.

Indeed, the film is perfectly cast, for who can ever trust Alec Baldwin’s smile? And who can ever mistrust Bill Pullman’s earnestness?

Nicole Kidman is the female star, and I read how David Thomson in his book about her wonders how she could take on this role.

The reason lies in several factors. And it might be fun and perhaps profitable to consider what an actor goes through to accept a role.

First, consider how much Nicole Kidman is like another major film star, Bette Davis, differing from her in her instrument, of course, and being far more of a glamour-puss than Davis. But like Davis in two regards: that she is willing to take on unglamorous parts to play women older than herself, people mean, vicious, hapless, lost, which Davis did all the time. And also that Nicole Kidman possesses an acting talent on the same level as Davis, which is very high indeed, both in innate and developed talent and in ambition for it. Such are her tendencies and position.

Second, terribly, an actor must continue acting, but can accept only what is available at the time. So the question as to why Nicole Kidman did not make a movie of Hedda Gabler, a role she is perfectly suited for, is because no one was making a movie of Hedda Gable at that moment.

Thomson is prejudiced against the material and denounces ii, but he blindsides himself.  He claims Kidman is skewing her character towards ordinariness, which she does not. She is feisty and quick and realistic in relation to her husband and her situation. She never plays innocent. She right-sizes both the devoted social worker and the mistress of the dodge.

But never mind the choices she makes in playing the part. Let’s consider instead the choice she exercised to accept the part at all.

The poet John Hollander once said to me that actors were stupid. I don’t agree. Indeed, certainly less stupid about poetry than poets are about acting, and certainly intelligent in the sort of roles they believe they can play well. That is to say, they have the sort of intelligence which can weigh the specific weight of a role in terms of their own gifts and their own instrument, just as a poet has an intelligence about the sort of poem he will or will not write. It’s a sort of inherent cunning in an artist. And it is a cunning that may see that a part is playable, and yet fail to see that the material is slack. Or it may not see, as how could anyone see, how a piece of material as complicated and communal as a film will pan out in ultimate execution and public appeal. So, very good actors appear sometimes in very stupid movies. That the movies are bad may give the impression that their acting also is bad, but that is usually not the case. Even as young as 25, Malice is a good choice for Nicole Kidman to have made. And it is her informed choice.

Think of it this way. Sviatoslav Richter played only two of the Beethoven concertos and only two of the Rachmaninoff concertos and only two of the Saint-Saens concertos and only two of the Prokofiev concertos, though each composer wrote five. Why? Because Richter knew he had nothing to bring to the missing twelve. They were not right for his particular talent, or, in his case, his genius. Nicole Kidman, an actor of genius, is not a genius at everything either, and her intelligence will tell her what her particular genius can make of a part. Like Richter she is not meant to play everything. She choses what she can bring or not bring her gifts to. It’s a calculation about craft.

How can I make this clearer?

All right.

I have played many leading roles in plays. I could play King Lear. I could play Big Daddy. But I know darn well I could not play Willie Loman. My instrument is not made for it.

This film was highly successful, and she is flawless in it. She achieves complete bafflement over everyone, including the audience, which is the confident woman’s job, isn’t it? And when you look back on the performance you can see that there is no dissociation between what Kidman presents of the character as wife and what the character hides from view.

But, more particularly, it is a role exactly right for her in the writing, atmosphere, and treatment. It is something she could do that we did not know she could do until we saw her do it here. But she knew she could do it.

 

 

To Rome, With Love

04 Jul

To Rome, With Love –– written and directed by Woody Allen. Farce. Four groups of people find themselves out of their depths in the Eternal City. 102 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

As the fingers of two hands folded together mesh but do not meld together, these four adventures interlace in the narrative of this film, but never coincide, except in the satisfaction their juxtaposition affords, which is the same natural satisfaction that folded hands afford. It’s farce: speed is everything, and so are doors. As each door slams on one group it breezes open unapologetically on another. The young American girl and the young Roman lawyer, engaged to be married, meet her parents, Woody Allen and Judy Davis, and their parents meet his parents, and before you know it, bingo, the father of the one is rushing the father of the other, a mortician, into a major operatic career, although the poor man is only able to sing in the shower. Jesse Eisenberg and his live-in host her trivial titillating best friend, Ellen Page, and he tumbles for the minx, although she is clearly out his class.  A young married couple arrive from the country for his interview for a big-city job, and fall foul of a lady of the afternoon, Penélope Cruz, who through force of circumstance must double as his wife at an interview with his future bosses, every one of whom is her client. All this while the young man’s wife falls into the toils of a plump movie star who offers her once-in-a-lifetime sexual possibilities. She succumbs, I am glad to say, and husband and wife come out of their escapades with useful sexual educations. A nonentity clerk, Roberto Benigni is extracted from his little family into inexplicable notoriety, which he at first resists, then embraces wildly. These four cards are played for our amusement by Allen who plays them as playful playthings. Cruz is, of course, once again hilarious in the Sophia Loren role. The movie star, played by Antonio Albanese is superbly funny as the stout sex symbol matinee idol. Ellen Page is Jim Dandy as the girl who comes to dinner and eats the host. But the entire film is stolen by Her Greatness Judy Davis from whom one cannot wrench one’s eyes. She is the actress of actresses, and Allen wisely keeps her on camera in every scene with him that he can. Her role is purely responsive to him, but you never watch him for a minute while she is there, because in never attempting to steal a scene she steals all of them, and because she is the real thing and, of course, Allen isn’t. What he is is a cartoon. Sadsack is the name of the cartoon. As an actor Allen does what he has always done, be hapless and paranoid, and he is very funny, but he is also annoying and never appealing ever, and she is. He is always appealing and so he is never appealing. His comedy as a director is not visual, but verbal and histrionic. Which means he cannot tell a story with a camera. But when a camera is on, the sound track records some very good jokes and some very telling human behavior. And that is enough for us and all we need to deserve as an audience very used to this national monument with its pigeon droppings, Woody Allen. Alec Baldwin appears as the useless sexual wisdom of the future and the past, playing Jiminy Cricket to Eisenberg’s sexual Pinocchio. He and Judy Davis define the difference between humor and Woody Allen who defines comedy. A movie can satisfy without a belly laugh because it has humor. But a comedy, with all its belly laughs, cannot satisfy if it does not have humor. To Rome, With Love has both. When it was over, we all applauded. I would send Woody Allen one perfect rose, except I think it more proper to send him a huge cellophane-wrapped basket of fresh fruit as a bon voyage gratitude to his continued voyage before us.

 

 

Rock Of Ages

16 Jun

Rock Of Ages – directed by Adam Shankman. Rock Musical. A launching pad of rock and roll legends is threatened with closure, as in it new stars arise and old ones rise higher. 123 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★

Rock and roll passed me by. I was too old for it at the time. So I know nothing of it. For this reason, I believe, I found this whole endeavor consistently entertaining from start to finish. The words to the songs are audible, mirabile dictu, which means that although they do lack distinction they do not lack distinctiveness. Everyone is good in it and everyone sings good, too. The young lovers give strong performances, as they must, for they really have to carry the picture. She jumps off the bus in L.A. from Oklahoma, and he is already bussing dishes in the venue where it mostly takes place. They come to one another’s rescue throughout, for this is a fairy tale set in The Palace Of Fame, or at least in one of the outbuildings of it, The Grange Of Celebrity, a grungier pleasance. The point of the piece is immediately established behind the credits, not as parody, but as serious comedy in which everyone is played not for comment but for real, with a funny inner hat. Starting with Paul Giamatti as the star-maker manager: his prevarication of the question, “Is it true?” is hilarious, both as played and as written; you must not omit to see it. But it is not just a question of particular scenes but of consistency and sustainment of tone that made me smile from the start to the finale. That glittering puma, Catherine Zetta-Jones as the righteous mayor’s wife who wants to shut down rock and roll forever struts her musical comedy chops with great humor and knowingness. As do Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, the latter of whose humor is particularly telling as the superannuated hippy venue owner. The songs are energetic and the choreography is fortunate. There is a cast of hundreds. And into all of this saunters the always half nude figure of Tom Cruise as the rock and roll superstar pushing fifty – a sort of combination of Iggy Pop and Robert Newton, a walking Parnassus of Sex, his jewelled crown a codpiece of rubies, in an astonishing turn by an astonishing actor – who once again throws himself into a role hook, line, and sinker. He plays him as brain-damaged by fame. His joy in his craft is abounding. His actor’s imagination is unfathomable. For instance, his character’s seduction line is so used up that there is nothing further he can find to trade it in for, and he must repeat it, knowing it will succeed with any woman in question but not with himself. He makes his character a musical star so exalted that the view from his mountain top is wise beyond knowing, but perforce also hazy as to those who live so far below that he seems out to lunch, while the fact is that at all times he has already eaten lunch. It is a wonderful piece of work. He daringly develops this character into a full grotesque ,detail by detail; that is, his fingernails are painted aubergine and bitten to the quick, so that whenever we see his hands ten tiny eggplants flash before our eyes. Well, for all these wonderful actors, and because I like musicals, I smiled all the way through this one. See it in a theatre. It’s a big show. It doesn’t belong in your living room. You belong in its.

 

It’s Complicated

08 Nov

It’s Complicated — Directed and Written by Nancy Meyers. Sex Farce. A divorced couple gets it on. 120 minutes Color 2009

* * *

Meryl Streep is a great actress, but she is not a Leading Lady. What she is is a Character Lead. Cast as a Leading Lady, as she sometimes is and as she is here, she cannot carry a film. She gives all that smiles and laughter have to offer to the part she plays here, but the soul of her gift is not in it. To be a leading lady one has to have a certain material substance, even a quirk of voice will do, such as Jean Arthur had, such as Katherine Hepburn had. One has to be a personality actress such as Diane Keaton or Goldie Hawn are. Meryl Streep’s affect is milky, wanting in strength, she has no defining attributes. So when she plays a Leading Lady character she is playing something close to her own everyday voice, and it lacks interest, bite, depth, intensity, and color. She’s just not that sort of actor, no fault of her own. Very few actors can do both sorts of things. Leonardo de Caprio is another example of this same problem. Cast him in Blood Diamond or Celebrity and you really have something. Cast him in Aviator and you have nothing. The problem of the picture, however, does not lie solely with Meryl Streep. The piece begins as a sophisticated, witty, sex farce, a la Ernst Lubitsch, well-written and well set up. But as soon as the children appear prominent it collapses. It is not the actors’ fault. They are simply not needed as story elements, and the writing of their parts is feeble, causing the playing of the parts to be also feeble. The more they are given in the film the less the film becomes. This is partly because the writer conceives them as TV sitcom children, and partly because she flushes the story down with them in an excrement of sentimentality. Alex Baldwin, as Meryl Streep observes, commandeers the film away from Steve Martin, but that is a directorial and writing error. Baldwin is very funny as the ex-husband, but once it becomes obvious that he is grossly, if endearingly, self-involved the writing of his part becomes repetitious and Streep’s becomes improbable, since her character does not act on the obvious. The writing of the Steve Martin character is flaccid; since he is supposed to be the good, sensitive guy, the part is stripped of wit, and Martin is reduced to clowning in the shadows. As the film declines in interest, what with the improbable behavior of the children and the lack of competitive edge for Martin, it also collapses on the interesting matter of this post-marital affair, reducing the escapade into exploring rationales for it. Streep is not enlarged by the affair once it is over. She is deflated by it. It is an error in judgment all around. The problem is not with the direction or filming here, which is frequently interesting. The problem is that the director needed a co-writer as a corrective to keep what begins in generating our delight from ending up generating our disgust.

 

 
 
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